Australian Researchers’ Mobility Portal

Thursday 21st June 2007

Germany could make itself more attractive to international scientists by providing clearer career paths and better salaries, and promoting early, independent research. These are just some of the recommendations made in a 10-point plan published by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Re-established in 1953 after the end of World War II by the German Federal Government, the foundation promotes international research cooperation. Each year it manages approximately 1,800 research visits by top and junior international researchers.

The 10-point plan, which is based on feedback from the foundation’s network, outlines the measures that German public authorities and universities need to take in order to ensure that the country continues to woo researchers from abroad.

A key recommendation concerns the recruitment of more researchers. German professors are responsible for supervising some 63 students, which, the foundation points out, is twice the number supervised at the average international university.

In order to meet the EU’s Lisbon Goals of making Europe the most competitive economy in the world by 2010, it is estimated that the country would have to create 70,000 new research positions. While funding for recruiting young academics is foreseen in the Government’s Pact for Higher Education and the Pact for Research and Innovation, “the measures are not sufficient and must be augmented in the mid-term”, argues the foundation.

The foundation also recommends establishing clearer career paths, especially between the stages of earning a doctorate and securing a professorship, and making them compatible internationally. One suggestion is to adopt the Anglo-Saxon tenure track, which clearly defines and qualifies the steps at which decisions are made about whether someone remains at an institution.

Another important factor determining a researcher’s move to another country is the remuneration package on offer. In Germany, researchers working in universities and public research centres are paid according to the pay-scales set by a public sector wage agreement. But compared to elsewhere, these wages are not competitive, says the foundation, and the pay agreement does not take into account the special features of academic life. In order to remain competitive internationally, the foundation calls for a closer examination of the pay-scale “to determine whether it is really commensurate with the demands placed on internationally competitive science today”.

Another way to attract researchers, especially younger researchers, is to strengthen funding programmes for early, independent research. But here again, the foundation finds that compared to other countries, young researchers in Germany have less room to make decisions about the research they are doing. It argues that procedures could be introduced to promote risk-taking among researchers at an early stage of their careers.

Other measures which could help attract more researchers include the establishment at EU level of a system to transfer basic social security benefits; an investment programme for accommodation and meeting places for scientists; better relocation packages; careers advice for researchers and their partners; and childcare facilities.